Howard EichenbaumCurrent Biology

About

Authors
Howard Eichenbaum
Year
2015
DOI
10.1016/j.cub.2015.02.010
Subject
Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all) / Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)

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with fi erce intensity. Most of these centered on science and/or the fl aws of its practitioners, often coupled with broader societal themes. He staged his plays in Vienna, London and New

York and elsewhere, and had hoped to have reviews like Michael Frayn got for ‘Copenhagen’, for example, but these did not come. He also wrote four autobiographical works and in the fi nal one, published only months before his death, Djerassi delved into his motives behind these endeavors in fi ction and on the stage. One can admire him for the cleverness of his novels and plays, as well as a well-intended desire to convey science and its culture, but there was often a certain ponderous tone to the dialogue. Djerassi wanted his plays to not only be applauded by critics for their virtues as pure theater, but to have them be seen as exemplars of his statesmanship for the cause of science, analogous to the contributions of J.B.S.

Haldane as an essayist or Carl Sagan as a populist. He may have fallen short on both of these laudable goals, but his endeavors deserve admiration.

Any chemist of Djerassi’s accomplishment would hope for esteem in the guild, and this he surely had, as well as a wider circle beyond chemistry, including sociology. He received many honors including both the U.S. National

Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology, and the fi rst Wolf Medal of Israel. As one who always referred to himself, correctly, as a displaced person, these surely were signifi cant.

In the last decades of his life, Djerassi’s unquenchable intensity was manifest by a very active triangulation between

Vienna, London and San Francisco, even as his fi nal illness began to close in. Indeed, after his death his calendar was found to have entries of numerous lectures and trips scheduled way into 2015. He was predeceased by three wives and a daughter, and is survived by a son, grandson and stepdaughter.

Carl Djerassi gave very much to the world. He was as complex as he candidly portrayed himself, and leaves us saddened that we will no longer have the man and his works to surprise and stimulate us.R264 Current Biology 25, R255–R268, Marc

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular

Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts

Medical School, 364 Plantation Street,

Worcester, MA 01605, USA.

E-mail: thoru.pederson@umassmed.eduQ & A

Howard

Eichenbaum

Howard Eichenbaum is a University

Professor at Boston University, where he is also the Director of the Center for

Memory and Brain and Silvio O. Conte

Center for Neuroscience Research. He received a B.S. in Biological Chemistry and a PhD in Psychology from the

University of Michigan and pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at M.I.T. Since the beginning of his graduate studies he has focused on the question of how memory is accomplished by brain circuits and systems.

What turned you on to biology in the fi rst place? I have always been fascinated by the biology and behaviour of animals (including humans). In particular, I have always felt driven to understand how biological mechanisms support complex cognitive processes such as conscious thought.

And what drew you to your specifi c fi eld of research? Early on I decided that conscious thought might be beyond our reach in current experimental neurobiology; however, conscious recollection — everyday memory — seemed more tractable and a good place to start investigating the neurobiology of high-order cognition.

So, I quickly focused on the biological mechanisms of memory.

Who were your key early infl uences?

I had the good fortune of interacting with three pioneers in the neurobiology of memory during my PhD training at the University of Michigan during the 1970s. My PhD supervisor Bernard

Agranoff had discovered key steps in the molecular biology of memory, and early on in my training we were visited by Brenda Milner, who discussed her observations on memory loss following removal of the hippocampal area in the famous patient H.M. It became clear to me that I should pursue the territory h 30, 2015 ©2015 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserv between the molecular–cellular and the brain system levels to understand how the cellular mechanisms of neuronal activity support the phenomenology of memory. A promising avenue Current Biology

Magazine for this approach presented itself when I became aware of the work of

Michigan’s James Ranck, one of the pioneers in recording single neuron activity in the hippocampus of behaving rats. I was captivated by listening to neurons fi re during ongoing behaviour and by the possibility of discovering the neural ‘code’ for memories as the bridge between cellular mechanisms and cognitive phenomena in memory.

Do you have any neuroscience heroes? Among my heroes are the pioneers I met early in my career, and others who made major breakthroughs in this fi eld, including James McGaugh, who pioneered neurobiological studies on memory consolidation, and Neal

Cohen and Larry Squire whose studies on amnesia led a revolution in distinguishing multiple memory systems in the brain. I’ll say a little more about James Ranck (in whose lab I fi rst listened to hippocampal neurons fi ring in behaving rats). In 1973, he published an insightful and detailed (70 pages) categorization of the behavioural correlates of hippocampal neuronal activity. In it, Ranck commented that spatial fi ring characteristics described in a preliminary report by John O’Keefe could be the entire basis of the apparent behavioural properties he had observed.

Ranck’s elegant observations on complex natural behaviours encoded by hippocampal neurons was subsequently lost in the excitement about place cells, but his intuitions opened a window to the broad range of experience captured in hippocampal neuronal activity.

Which historical scientist would you like to meet and what would you ask her or him? In the fi eld of hippocampal research, there are two prominent views. One view, based on the observations on amnesic patient H.M., is that the hippocampus supports memory. The other view is based on O’Keefe’s discovery of hippocampal place cells — neurons that fi re when an animal occupies a specifi c location in its environment. To